Have you ever wondered about the origins of the English language? Where does the language come from, and when did people start speaking it in its modern form? Read on to find the answers.
Let’s start our story 2000 years ago, when Britain was inhabited by a group of people called Celts, who spoke a language called Celtic. They were conquered by the Romans, who ruled England for about four hundred years and spoke Latin. So you might think that the English language comes from Latin or Celtic – but you’d be wrong. Some people in Wales and Scotland still speak languages (Welsh and Scottish Gaelic) that are descended from Celtic, but modern English has very few words that are directly from the Roman or Celtic periods.
Instead, the main influence on English was a group of people called Anglo-Saxons. They originally came from Germany and invaded England around 1500 years ago. They brought their language with them, and that’s why modern English has many words in common with German – the two languages come from the same source.
But English isn’t just based on German: it also has a lot of influence from the French language. That’s because of a group of people called the Normans, who came from a part of France and conquered England in 1066. After they conquered England, the Normans made themselves the new aristocrats – the Kings and Queens, Lords and Ladies of England, and they spoke their own language: French. So for a long time, there were two languages in use in England: the rich people, who were Normans, spoke French, and the poor people, who were the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, spoke Old English. Gradually, the two languages combined: the rich Normans started speaking English, while the poor Anglo Saxons took on some French words into their own language.
We can still see the impact of this in some of our modern day vocabulary. For example, the English word “sheep” comes from the Anglo Saxon, because the Anglo Saxons were the farmers who worked with the animals, while the English word “mutton”, meaning sheep meat, comes from French, because the rich Normans were the ones who ate the meat.
Of course, English has changed a lot in the last 900 years as well. The grammar and spelling has changed and new words have entered – for example, the word “tomato” comes from a language used in Central America. English has changed so much that when we read Chaucer, who was writing in the fourteenth century, he is very hard to understand. By Shakespeare’s time (around 1600), English was closer to modern English, but even so, as many bored British schoolchildren will tell you, Shakespeare can be very confusing!
So there you have it – a quick history of the origins of the English language. If you’re wondering how it will change in the future – well, who knows?! What do you think?